2006 Monastery Tvrdos Vranac: Twice as Nice

Until I began working for Blue Danube, I, like the majority of Americans, had never tasted a wine from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Clearly, I was missing out; the region is steeped in ancient winemaking tradition. By comparison, these Balkan countries make France seem very New-World. The reason grapes have been cultivated here for thousands of years is simple: their terroir, the confluence of the sunny maritime climate and mountains produces robust grapes. This entry focuses on the 2006 Vranac from Monastery Tvrdos of the Trebinje region of Herzegovina.

Tvrdos Manastir

The Tvrdos Monastery sits on the banks of the picturesque Trebišnjica river, 15 miles as the crow flies or, due to circuitous roads, a two hours drive from the Adriatic coast. It is here that the river erodes topsoil, creating the fields of karst endemic to this region. Although hot summers and mild winters characterize the region, winds blow simultaneously from both the nearby Dinaric mountains and the Adriatic. The indigenous grapes, the white varietal, ŽZilavka, and Vranac have been grown in the region for centuries. Vranac is a supposed relative of the Croatian Plavac Mali, the ancestor of the Californian Zinfandel.

Tvrdos Vineyard

The monastery is perched on the foundation of a 4th-century Roman church that is still visible today. For centuries the monks of the monastery have grown grapes, but previously had only produced enough wine for their own consumption. Fortunately for us, they have increased their production and are shipping it stateside.

The first time I tried the Tvrdos Vranac 2006, it was accompanied by a Greek-inspired lentil soup. The wine was pleasant, but the soup amplified the wine’s acidity. Mea culpa. The second time around with a cheese plate as accompaniment, the wine was in its element. Well-done Catherine! It was a true testament to subtle art of food and wine pairing.

The wine showed a deep garnet in the glass and smelled of sour cherries and smoke. Instead of the simple cranberry flavored wine it was, this time, the wine tasted richer, filled out by savory nuances of dirt, bitter chocolate and touches of cinnamon.

Its bright acidity sidled right up to the ripened creamy blue goat cheese and the aged cheddar. However, in the end, the winning couple couple of the night was the Vranac and Roquefort. The wine’s acidity and the light tannins matched the piquant quality of the cheese. The Vranac was the ideal weight for the cheese, delicate enough to allow the cheese to shine in all its fruity splendor, but also strong enough to its match piquant quality. The Roquefort also emphasized the dusty quality of the wine. The tannins were present in the finish, no doubt softened by short-term bottle aging. The Tvrdos was truly the darling of the tasting. If you are a history nerd like me, taste this ancient culture and try a Herzegovinian wine.